My main take away about Vietnamese cuisine is that the Vietnamese love to wrap their food. Even if you don’t think it can be wrapped, it will probably be wrapped and then dipped in a sauce before being eaten. Spring rolls, summer rolls, pancakes wrapped around a filling which are then wrapped in a giant lettuce leaf, fish wrapped in banana leaves… the list of foods I had to wrap before eating was long – but tasty!
Vietnamese food is very healthy. Think lots of fresh vegetables, fish and grilled meats, rice, noodles and piles of fruit for dessert. Peanuts, for those with allergies, are popular, too. In terms of its spiciness, I didn’t find the food to be as spicy as that of Vietnam’s South East Asian neighbours. Apart from an excellent (and hot) seafood pho I had opposite the central market in Ho Chi Minh City, all the food I had was fairly mild.
My favourite discoveries
Here are some of my favourite discoveries during my trip:
Call me stupid, but before going to Vietnam I hadn’t realised that fresh coconuts were green. I’d only ever seen the dried brown versions we get in the UK and it had never occurred to me that this might not be how they grow on trees. Needless to say, the fresh green coconuts were a revelation. I often ordered them in cafés or restaurants, drinking the refreshing juice inside and then once I’d finished, devouring the flesh. Delicious.
Pink dragon fruit
I was familiar with white dragon fruit before my trip, but had no idea there was a pink variety. I found I much preferred the pink version, which is sweeter than the white one, and I found myself seeking it out wherever I was.
I was intrigued when I came across this sweet banana-flavoured fruit on my street food tour in Hanoi. The fruit has a large stone at its centre and you peel off the flesh strips. It’s not my favourite fruit as I found it ever so slightly sickly, but it’s worth trying.
Now I hadn’t drunk beer for a good decade before going to Vietnam. But beer is ubiquitous and I’d often sample the local brew with dinner. The beers seemed lighter than the ones you get in the UK and for someone who isn’t a fan of the golden nectar, I found them very drinkable and refreshing.
Even if you don’t like coffee (and I don’t), you have to try Vietnamese coffee when in Vietnam. It’s a shot of espresso mixed with condensed milk, egg yolk and sugar to form a very sweet, foaming coffee. It wasn’t my favourite thing I tried, but my travelling companions who like coffee, loved it.
My favourite dishes
I ate a lot of good food in Vietnam, but herewith were my favourite dishes:
Well, I couldn’t go to Vietnam without trying the country’s most famous dish, could I? Pho is a Vietnamese soup that usually has noodles and fish or meat added to it. I had a fabulously spicy seafood pho near the central market in Ho Chi Minh City that was packed with seafood and full of flavour. So good!
Banh cuon are very thin, steamed rice pancakes. The ones I had were filled with mushrooms and topped with coriander and fried shallots, and you dipped them in a sauce before eating. I tried these on my street food tour in Hanoi and they were incredible.
I’m probably showing my ignorance again here, but I had no idea that summer rolls existed before I encountered them in Vietnam. I really liked them and ate them a lot during my trip. Summer rolls are sheets of rice paper filled with a variety of foods such as vegetables, noodles, seafood or meat, which are rolled and then dipped in a sauce before eating. They’re the spring roll’s healthier cousin – they’re essentially a spring roll that hasn’t been deep fried.
Cooking in Hoi An
Wanting to get the most out of my experience in the country, I joined a cookery class in Hoi An. I’m quite a keen cook and have been on a number of cookery courses in the UK, so when I heard about the cookery class, I was eager to give it a go.
During the two-hour class, we made mackerel grilled in a banana leaf (delicious!), vegetable spring rolls, a chicken and green papaya salad, banh xeo (a fried rice pancake) and a sweet and sour dipping sauce. Everything we made was really easy – and most importantly very tasty.
Having eaten a lot of good food during my time in Vietnam, it was great to learn how to make it, too. If you’re in Vietnam and have the chance to join a cookery class, I’d really recommend it.